Richard Abowitz on pop culture

Las Vegas'  false facts

As jaded and cynical as I am about the current state of the study of Las Vegas history, even I was amazed by a story in the Review-Journal about the bronzed placards posted around Vegas, such as "The first Las Vegas hotel, now the Golden Gate, opened in 1906" and "In 1938, saddled horses were banned from inside casinos." The first item I thought was true. As for the second, well, I admit, the entire horses inside a casino thing was news to me; yet, I was sucker enough to believe it. That makes me an idiot.  Here is how my reason turned to idiocy. I asked myself: Would the city of Las Vegas spend $3,600 to post a false fact? This is Las Vegas. How could I forget that? And so the answer to that: Yes, the city would pay to post false bronzed plaques. Absolutely, yes.  Enthusiastically, yes. In fact, confronted by the Review-Journal about the lack of evidence for these plaques, Scott Adams, director of the Office of Business Development issued a written statement:

"Is it necessary to debunk a legend and the mystique that continues to draw 40 million people annually to this part of the desert?" 

Is he being serious? Did anyone ever come to Las Vegas because of the legend of the first hotel being built in 1906? Or, has a convention ever picked Vegas over Atlantic City because of the mystique of casinos banning horses?

Here is why this stuff matters. Recently, I tried to find out the story of Josephine Baker's visit to Las Vegas in 1951. I am reasonably sure that year she had a contract with a casino that allowed her to perform in front of the first integrated audience in Las Vegas. Baker, also, seems to have surprised the casino by insisting her contract be honored. But many of the details, including which casino this took place at, I still don't know for sure. In the case of Baker's Vegas debut, much seems to simply have not been recorded in Las Vegas history books. 

Of course, the bigger issue is that nothing like a definitive history of Las Vegas has been written. I am starting to think much may never be told accurately. Las Vegas has been telling so much spin and fibs about its past for so long there is a dangerous risk of the actual history being lost.

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